Corp Comm Connects

Where in the city do people struggle most to pay for their homes?
Census data shows a greater percentage of Toronto households put too much of their incomes toward housing compared to the rest of Canada.
Oct. 25, 2017
Alex McKeen

It comes as no surprise to Anna Agha that the condo she rents is part of a neighbourhood with one of the highest percentages of residents putting too large a portion of their income toward housing costs in the city.

“It is quite expensive,” said the 31-year-old as she walked her baby in a stroller around Alton Towers Cir. — a condo-laden area in Scarborough where she and her husband moved six months ago to be close to his work.

“We are thinking of moving after the lease is up,” she said, adding that they chose the location because the older, more spacious condominiums on Alton Towers Cir. were a better option for her family than the newer ones they looked at downtown.

Shelter costs are taking up about 50 per cent of their household budget at the moment, she estimated on the spot.

Census data from 2016 released Wednesday show the small community contained by Alton Towers Cir., east of McCowan Rd., is one of the two places in the city where 60 per cent of households spend 30 per cent or more of their income on housing costs — the highest percentage in Toronto.

The other neighbourhood was at Woodbine Ave. and Hwy. 7 in Markham.

Statistics Canada uses 30 per cent of income spent on housing as a benchmark to determine whether households have an “affordability” problem. In Toronto in 2016, 33 per cent of households spent more than the benchmark on shelter, compared with 28 per cent in Ontario and 24 per cent in Canada.

That’s a slight increase from the 2011 and 2006 census numbers, both of which showed approximately 32 per cent of Toronto households overspent the benchmark for affordable housing.

University of Toronto geography professor Deb Cowen said a number of factors contribute to what she called “the current affordability crisis” in Toronto.

“While most people struggle to pay rent and keep shelter over their heads, housing has also become an incredibly lucrative market — a commodity,” she said.

Cowen said part of the reason for high housing costs lies in aggressive lending by large mortgage financiers. “But it is also true for a growing number of small-scale home or condo owners who buy housing in order to accumulate wealth,” she said.

Geordie Dent, who runs the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, said his organization constantly gets calls from renters who are struggling to find affordable accommodation in the city.

“There's really two things that are happening: People are suffering and people are moving,” Dent said.

He’s familiar with cases of people moving out of Toronto to Hamilton, Windsor, and even other provinces in search of greater affordability.

“Not everyone wants to do that and not everyone will do that,” he said.

Those who choose to stay in Toronto may have to lower their housing standards, or dedicate more of their budget to housing rather than things like leisure, Dent said.

For some residents, spending a lot on housing is worth it.

Dominic Chung, 77, said the high cost of living on Alton Towers Cir. is worth the condo’s proximity to the grocery store, restaurants and his church.

“I love it here,” Chung said, who doesn’t drive anymore due to age.

Molly Tyson has lived in a co-operative townhome on Alton Towers Cir. for 17 years. She praised the community, and the governance structure that sees neighbours working together toward improvements to their homes.

Cowen warned that, as housing becomes more expensive, those who are in the most precarious positions are most likely to be negatively impacted.

“In a city like New York we see the highest rent burdens in areas facing rapid gentrification — areas where people with lower incomes are concentrated but which have experienced often dramatic valorization,” she said. “I imagine we will see similar patterns in the Toronto data too.”

The other Toronto pockets — called “tracts” in the census data — with the highest percentages of households spending more than 30 per cent of income are scattered throughout the city.

Of the 10 with the highest proportion, three of them are directly east of the University of Toronto, an area with many new, upscale condos. They’re also located in the Wallace Emerson, Niagara, Willowdale and Thorncliffe Park neighbourhoods.